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«DOCUMENT RESUME PS 003 423 ED 044 170 AUTHOR Webbink, Patricia G.; Stedman, Donald J. A Comparative Study of Failure Avoidance in TITLE Culturally ...»


PS 003 423

ED 044 170

AUTHOR Webbink, Patricia G.; Stedman, Donald J.

A Comparative Study of Failure Avoidance in


Culturally Disadvantaged and Non-Culturally

Disadvantaged First Grade Children.

INSTITUTION Duke Univ., Durham, N.C.


NOTE 8p.; Paper is an EIP Special Study Abstract,

Education Improvement Program, Durham, North

Carolina, 1966 EDRS PRICE EDRS Price MF-$0.25 HC-$0.50 *Achievement, Achievement Need, *Comparative


Analysis, Culturally Advantaged, Culturally Disadvantaged, Environmental Influences, *Failure Factors, *Grade 1, *Motivation, Task Performance


This study tests the hypothesis that culturally disadvantaged (CD) children would return more often to a completed task (one on which they had had previous success), while non-culturally disadvantaged (NCD) children would return more often to an incompleted task (to achieve closure or to re-try a task which they had previously failed.) Failure avoidance would be shown in CD children because of expectancy for and tolerance of failure in response to early environmental conditions which lack achievement motivation, with the opposite true of NCD children. Subjects were 24 NCD and 20 CD first graders. The NCD children were enrolled in a private school attended by upper middle class children, and the CD children were enrolled in a public school attended by lower class children. Each group included two Negro children. Each subject was individually given two puzzles to assemble within certain time limits. Failure was experimentally induced on one puzzle experience because the experimenter announced the time was up before puzzle completion, but success was allowed on the other puzzle experience because as much time was given as was needed for completion. After an interim period, the subject was asked which puzzle he would like to make again. An analysis of the repetition choice data upheld the original hypothesis and concomitant statement. (NH)









–  –  –

The problem of decreased achievement motivation in culturally disadvantaged children has received increasing attention over the past several years.

Poor school performance in the culturally disadvantaged (CD) child relative to the non-culturally disadvantaged (NCD) child has been attributed, at least in part, to this apparently motivational factor, or to what many have observed-to

–  –  –

be failure avoidance as opposed to success strivinj behavior. Bia ler (1960), Bialer and Cromwell (1959), and others have reported on failure avoidance in the mentally retarded as a motivational factor correlated with mental age and deirelopthentally acquired in materizalibbiad or adult/child interaction.

it has not been extensively evaluated in a culturally disadvantaged population.

The construct of failure avoidance has been contrasted with a basic perceptual-personality phenomenon characterized within Field theory as "innate" to the human. This phenomenon is described in the psychological literature as the Zeigarnik effect or the tendency toward closure or task completion in the operations of human behavior (Eysenck, 1960). The interchangeability of the constructs of low motivation, failure avoidance and attribtites of.the Zeigarnik effect are tenuous. However, there is potential value in focusing upon their relationship in studies of human motivation.

This study introduced the notion of equating the inability to successfully complete &task, and consequent lack of closure, with failure. This equation has been employed in the past with some degree of success in highlighting factors in perceptual and cognitive development (Bialer, 1960). Conversely, the successful completion of a task, or the achievment of closure, implies success. Since these notions are equated with motivational states, high achievement motivation would Page -3imply success striving or a drive toward closure, while low achievement motivation would imply failure avoidance and tolerance of lack of closure.

In our present study, this sequence of notions is utilized in a comparative test between reportedly low achievement motivated and high achievement motivated children. The former, in this case, are CD children, the latter NCD children.

These notions, and the literature, (Rosenzweig, 1.933 and 1945) lead us to predict that the low achievement motivated (CD) children would be failure avoidant and lack-of-closure tolerant, while the high achievement motivated (NCD) children would be success and cloure striving. Simply stated in relation to the present study task, CD children should more often return to the completed task (one on which previously they have been successful) while NCD children should more often return to an 'uncompleted task (to achieve closure or to re-try an Incompleted task in which they have previously failed). By registering such behavior, it would seem that the motivational state of children could be demonstrated, and a measure of motivational state established, by repetition choice behavior in the face of a decision to repeat one of two tasks previously attempted, one of which has failed. Failure avoidance would be demonstrated in CD children because of expectancy for and tolerance of failure in response to early environmental conditions lacking achievement motivating influence. Success striving will be demon

–  –  –


Subjects (Ss) were 24 NCD (10 boys, 14 girls ) and 20 CD (9 boys, 11 girls) first grade children. NCD children ranged in age from 5 years 2 months to 6 years 8 mon ths, while CD children ranged in age from 6 years 1 month to 7 years 3 months. NCD children attended a private school attended by upper middle socioeconomic class children, while CD children attended public school in a low-income city area attended by lower socio-economic children. Each group included two Negro children.

Materials The materials used in the study consisted of two plastic puzzles, a lion and a monkey. The former was a 14 piece puzzle, the latter was a 15 piece puzzle (see Figures 1 and 2) Each was made up of the same colors and was presumed to be of equal difficulty and interest value. Pieces were magnitized to fit into a metal frame measuring 10" x 12" on the outside.

Procedure The Examiner (E) visited each group of Ss during the school day and selected Ss one at a time to accompany E to a private room for testing. S was seated at a small table opposite E in typical testing fashion. On the table, facing 8, were placed the two intact puzzles.

E then said:

–  –  –

After these instructions, E disassembled both puzzles, leaving the pieces in the proper areas in two piles. S was then told to begin ("Go") by assembling the pt zzle to which E pointed first. The order of initiation by S was counterbalanced across Ss for left/right placement of lion-versus-monkey puzzle in

–  –  –

rupting and stopping S prior to the insertion of the sixth piece by saying, "Time's up." Success was allowed on the other puzzle regardless of the time required to complete it. Interruption/completion orders were alternated across Ss to equate success and failure experiences with the two puzzles.

–  –  –

period of from five to ten minutes was spent by S drawing a picture of anything he wished. When the drawing was finished S was asked to describe his 47t4 picture and a short conversation ensued between E and S.

CY'D Next, both puzzles were replaced, intact, before S in the same locations previously observed by S. S was then asked to choose which puzzle he would like tow14,,

–  –  –

to work again. S's repetition choice (RC) was noted and he was asked the reason for his choice. Reasons were noted and S was returned to the classroom without further testing.

Data Analysis RC data were tabulated and CD/NCD behavior was compared to test the predictions stated. The Sign test for independent samples was employed to test differences between groups. Confidence levels were set up at p

–  –  –

24 children returned to the interrupted (failed) task. As predicted, the CD group returned significantly more often (p.05) to the completed (successful) task. There was no significant difference between RCs for NCD children.

CD children returned significantly more often to the completed task (p.05) than did the NCD children and NCD children returned more often (p.01) to the incompleted task than did CD children.

There was a slight but non-significant tendency in each group to return to the monkey puzzle in preference to the lion puzzle. There were no significant differences in RC within either group or within both groups combined with respect to sex of Ss.

Data from children's drawings and reasons for RC were not analyzed or interpreted.

–  –  –

Twunty-four non-culturally disadvantaged (NCD) and twenty culturally disadvantaged ( CD ) first grade children were given two puzzles to assemble under stress of time limit. Ss were allowed to complete one _puzzle successfully, while failure was induced in the other by calling time before completion.

After an interim period each S was asked to choose which of the puzzles he would like to repeat ( RC).

–  –  –

As predicted, the CD children's RCs were significantly directed toward previously successful puzzles (p.05) demonstrating failure avoidance or low achievement motivation. NCD children did not select between incompleted and completed puzzles above chance level but chose the incompleted task significantly more often (p.01) and completed puzzles significantly less often (p.05) than CD children. This was interpreted as upholding predicted success striving of NCD versus CD children.

Data were considered to have upheld hypotheses generated concerning higher states of achievement motivation in NCD as compared to CD children.

The capability of measurement of this state through repetition choke (RC)

–  –  –

4. Rosenzweig, S., Preferences in th6 repetition of successful and unsuccessful activities as a function of age and personality. 1. Genet. Psychol.

1933, 42, p. 423-440.

5. Rosenzweig, S., Further comparative data on repetition choice after success and failure as related to frustration tolerance. J. Genet. Psychol., 1945, 66, p. 75-81.

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